From its inception it was going to be different than what the world has come to expect from any past meeting between the leaders of the United States and a foreign country. The question then becomes: is the difference good or bad? Your answer may depend on your political outlook, but it shouldn’t, because change is a constant in life and politics is no different. The big paradigm shift in this case is that the leaders met without a pre-approved document to sign. In the past it would take months or years of negotiations before a President flew off to a meeting to sign a document or treaty, but President Trump upended that, for better or worse.
The short timeline between the initial invitation and the actual meeting caused quite a stir in the halls of power in Washington. When the date was set many where sure it was not enough time to get it all together, and when the President cancelled the meeting following a resumption of the war rhetoric by North Korea it was gleefully announced by some that it showed a meeting could not happen. Then when the meeting was put back on the line became that there was no way to get it back together in such a short time. This then is the beginning of the shift we are seeing and why it is making many uncomfortable.
An old saying goes “we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions.” Past attempts to control North Korea have been of good intent but characterized by incomplete or incompetent actions. The change in the way this administration has conducted diplomacy has put action at the forefront. US intentions were well known long before the invitation to meet arrived at the White House and the immediate acceptance was an action that was needed to start the conversation.
Without rehashing the news reports Kim and Trump met in Singapore and appeared to have had a productive meeting. The two leaders got to know each other and agreed to a very broad course of action or framework if you will. The highlights of the agreement are:
“The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.”
“The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.”
“Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
“The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”
That’s it, but it’s the start of a solution that has evaded the world for 70 years. Those that are claiming that Trump gave away everything and got nothing in return are failing to see the difference in this and past starts with North Korea. In the past, agreements were reached between government officials and ratified without the leaders ever meeting. No American president wanted to “legitimize” a North Korean leader. The Kim regime is not going away whether the west acknowledges its existence. Kim is in charge of the country and its military and all things that North Korea is and will be in the short term. He has to be engaged if any meaningful solution is to be reached.
The main purpose of engaging North Korea is to denuclearize the region. While we have many examples of what the establishment perceives as correct diplomacy we have only one recent example of an attempt through diplomacy to end a countries nuclear program. The Joint Comprehensive Plain of Action, the Iran Deal, followed the pattern of diplomacy that is considered proper, and it is a complete failure.
One of the criticism of the Singapore agreement is that it has little substance, there is no definite timeline or method of verification. While this is true it is also of no consequence. It is an outline of what the follow up meetings must accomplish as defined by the leadership. The follow-on meetings will hammer out the substance and processes that will need to be followed.
We know what the World wants, a denuclearized and safe Korea. What does North Korea want, in short sanctions relief and regime security. There is no one I know that can confidently predict if, after a five-hour meeting, either side is on the road to achieving their goals, but we can at least see if they are going in the right direction.
To begin, the hope for denuclearization is at least in the declaration with both side agreeing to work toward that goal. The declaration also calls for both sides to work toward a stable regime on the peninsula, OK score one for Kim. Between these two statements we have the desire for sanctions relief, there’s the rub. The North Korean news agency reported that there would be partial sanctions relief prior to denuclearization while VP Pence told the world at a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister that there would be no sanction relief until there was concreate denuclearization. Where does this go from here.
Looking at this from the new Trump diplomatic paradigm it is just the beginning of the process, Trump style. In the past diplomats would meet and over a long period of negotiation would reach some agreement, maybe not what either side had hoped for, but it was a compromise that would lead to more negotiations as the end state was in fact not satisfactory. In Singapore we had two leaders get together for the first time, exchange pleasantries, make lovely remarks about each other then turn to their respective teams and say, here is where we want to be, get us there.
Many pundits declared that the meeting was nothing more than a show with no results and at the same time declared the US gave too much away. The only thing the President gave to Kim was a promise of a temporary suspension of joint military exercises with the South Korean military. The two things to note about this is: one, these exercises can be resumed very quickly, and two, most exercises are done on computers and planned out behind closed doors. Trump therefore gave Kim nothing more than a bullet point to tell his people, he got the US to stop the exercises.
One other point some of the pundits made is that the only winner is going to be China by reducing US military presence and therefore influence in the region, REALLY. First off there are over 23,000 US troops in South Korea who are not likely to be withdrawn quickly, second these talks do not affect the US forces in Japan or the South Korean Military which is closely tied to the US. Lastly should the US get the North to denuclearize then North Korea will get its sanction relief which will come with US products and services. Once McDonalds opens it first restaurant Chinese influence is gone. OK, this may be an exaggeration but once the gates are opened to the hermit kingdom there will be no turning back.
There is a long way to go before the results about this meeting are known but the wheels have begun to spin, and at least now we have hope of actually getting somewhere.